Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Geeking Out in July

As a matter of professional pride, I have to poke around in the guts of my computer now and then, just to stay in practice. Also, I was wanting to walk my talk around "Christmas in July", an overtly secular holiday, all about shopping, like the real Christmas, but with none of the guilt -- just doing our part for the economy, foot soldiers for capitalism and yada yada.

The upshot is I'm pleased with the new 600W ATX power supply (a StealthXstream from OCZ Technology), quiet and with all the right plugs. I mail ordered from TigerDirect.

The Diamond ATI Radeon 4850, on the other hand, bought for cheap at Frys, is too into rebooting KTU3 whenever I try to control it, with consequent bug reports aiming at Microsoft for some reason (I doubt it's their problem). Plus there's this upcoming Quaker camping trip and I'm short on gear.

So maybe this Christmas in July takes a new twist and the video card goes back for a refund and instead Joe's gets my business as a wannabe camper (an easy "sport" likewise popular in Russia especially where eATVs are involved). My 78 year old mother wants to join in the fun, so I'm seeking a cot also (because of injuries, an air mattress is "suboptimal" -- as geeks like to say).

I mention Russians because I'm thinking ahead to our Bearing Strait project, a piece of company lore we Fuller Schoolers tend to rally around, almost as if it had theological significance. I won't try to explain everything in a short blog post though (go Google).

Now if I wanna be really greedy, I might try a different Radeon, on the off chance this one was returned because flaky, whereas a full priced one might not disappoint. We shall see. My sponsors keep me very lean when it comes to unnecessary expenses, a way of keeping me mean I think (hey, it works). Given all the hostility to Bucky type projects, it pays to have lots of hungry Quakers on short leashes, other exotic krew.

Update: Xmas continues, thanks to Joe's, and yes, I'm gonna try a new video card (a different brand though). Tara and Carol: off seeing a Narnia movie. We're planning on borrowing a tent, so delayed getting a new one, but I did get that cot for mom, looks pretty usable.

:: thx to sam by way of trevor ::

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Looney Tunes @ Amazon

(click for larger view)
Check out this screen shot, made with SnagIt, just a drop shadow added.

The page is ostensibly about a philosophy of mathematics title, but the Review (cut short) thinks it's about India, whereas the Product Description thinks we're talking about Susan's book on landscaping.

I saved verbatim quotes in the Math Forum, as a footnote in remarks about the philosophy book in question.

I rode TinkerBell to the gym today, hoping to work off those extra NPYM pounds. My fitness coaches, themselves quite athletic, are in consensus that I should keep shedding the dead weight, especially if I'm back to Guinness for protein (smile). Here's a weighty Friend looking to be less weighty. One snore doctor said I'd lightened up some, usually a good sign.

OSU is largely an Ag school, as in Agriculture, so all that wholesome cafeteria food is most welcome if you're gonna go out and "ag", work out on the gridiron or whatever. I'd have swelled up at Princeton had it not been for Rodrigo, my highly talented resident adviser and future exMarine. He got me out running, doing cardiovascular activities, leaving behind infrastructure I depend on to this day.

Once civilian volunteers get more of what their counterparts get, food, shelter and basic training, plus maybe officer training, then they'll have more time for the job at hand, driving those tractors, running those milking machines, laying that track, fixing those pumps -- all jobs that take calories, as well as an education.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Saving Worlds

"Always back up your data" was the rule of thumb, soon after the personal computer showed up in homes, and people started losing work. A single hard drive might've had all this redundancy, multiple writes of the same stuff, but that wouldn't have been a realistic response to the likelihoods. When a hard drive fails, it's often a mechanical failure, a part wearing out. Multiple writes of the same data blocks doesn't help, as the platens themselves are now inaccessible.

Fast forward to RAID, redundant disk arrays. Now it really does make more sense to mirror data across drives, such that a mechanical failure leads to a hot swap (insert a new drive without powering down) and mathematically low risks. Mirroring across independently breakable parts is engineeringly sound, solves a real problem.

Fast forward again, and now we're looking at huge rack spaces, commodity hardware, with attendant problems of dissipating heat, and interconnecting these clusters to mirror data across data centers. Why? Because you want your web services to be in closer physical proximity to users, for performance reasons, and because you want robust mirroring, as before. Frameworks like Hadoop and GFS solve these kinds of problems.

So what's the analogous trajectory in terms of archival or peripheral media? On a personal computer, once you back off to DVD or flash drive, you have a mounting issue. Not all media remain mounted, much goes off line. Sometimes the archived copies are the only copies i.e. we're not mirroring disk content, but saving a snapshot of what a disk used to contain, contains no longer.

The DVD juke box is another good example, hearkening back to those signature tape drives of the early mainframe business, with personnel taking them from passive storage and mounting them on high speed spoolers (serial access to magnetic tape -- one of the earliest storage media).

What we come back to, using Fuller's namespace some, is a question of lag times. If one assumes accessibility in principle, i.e. the data is saved somewhere, then it's more a question of "when" does one get access. One might imagine a science fiction story in which some time capsule storage gets mounted only once every hundred years. Trying to mirror the whole shebang is way too energy intensive, so the smart searchers just hone in on the specific puzzle pieces they need, like it's some game with glass beads.

Safe to say in many cases: the answers don't arrive in the same order the questions were posed. Put another way, the "jobs queue" and "results stack" are in need of collation, of sorting.

MapReduce might be the appropriate design pattern here, with the initial key a job number, leading to parallel processes doing the information harvesting, with the reduce process remembering the original job number, so the original submitter has at least a fighting chance of knowing when prayers have been answered (ding!... wish 08-7564 is now granted).

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Women and FOSS

Speaker: Emma Jane Hogbin (from Canada). Taking notes live:

Women Don't Ask and Unlocking the Clubhouse are two good titles on women in computing. Susan Pinker's The Sexual Paradox, new, is also good, also Glass Houses.

In India, there's a much higher percentage of women in the technology sector, Pinker thinks because of pay scale issues. Women can more easily afford a non-technical career in the west. Is she right in her analysis?

Talking about "the lack of women" isn't moving us forward. We need to change the conversation, to world domination by FOSS (Free and Open Source Software). Currently, 98.5% of FOSS projects are headed by males.

The HOWTO for encouraging women's participation in the Linux community includes 26 rules of engagement. In sum: don't be a dick, encourage participation.

She cited Mark Shuttleworth's talk, with his crack about creating sexy software that helps people "get laid" (citing some philosopher). Accept awkward moments and move on?

The challenge of recruiting to FOSS is a marketing challenge, so lets think in terms of branding.

Women are more likely to switch brands "based on a good cause" (men less likely). Women place more importance on brand characteristics and personal assistance than men do -- but FOSS is self serve (no store).

The Red Hat Society provides more of a model -- look for groups of people (especially women) to recruit. Charities (nonprofit sector) tend to employ a lot of women -- there's a group.

Help seniors escape from routines. They have grandkids don't forget. Help forge an alliance across the grandparent / grandkid bridge, based on FOSS -- a way to develop that relationship.

Women are workshop junkies (if not conference junkies): quilting bees, scrap booking retreats. Women will pay for these workshops. Having a cost increases the perceived value and commitment (Larry Dotson).

HICK Tech: How the Internet Connects Knowledge -- a good model? Women predominate at this conference, plus are more likely to register early. The focus is on the impact of technology on rural lifestyles.

Constructive suggestions:
  • If we have consciousness on every daily action, we can change the "mainstream" conceptions (Claudia Lulkin) -- mindfulness (do one thing different).
  • Live in the future, behave as if already surrounded by women (because you are, duh).
  • Ask women to be role models (www.geekspeakr.com).
  • Ask men to help make change happen too.
  • Empower people to make foolish mistakes. Reduced stress will empower you to work more creatively.
  • Empowerment eliminates fear (how people deal with foolish mistakes makes a big difference).
  • Clearly transfer authority.
  • Encourage women to question the software, ask them how to improve it, teach them to change reality.
  • Allow for matriarchies to run geek communities, participate in viral marketing etc.
During Q&A I mentioned my "party line" that computer science is already "matriarchal". Perhaps I live more in the future in that respect?

More Geek Anthro

In contrast to yesterday's breakfast, today's was quite social. I started by bragging to R0ml about my 79 year old mom, degree in history from a Jesuit academy in the Philippines, reader of Latin, who now administers web sites, a big fan of Drupal.

Then I got into deep discussions with a gentleman from Philadelphia (National Board of Medical Examiners), with Wanderer Keith Lofstrom joining us (I explained about our designer cult, Terry our fearless leader).

This morning, we're hearing from the legal community, in the person of this OIN guy, about various protection schemes that'll help defend us from patent trolls, especially in the software biz.

One may envision lots of jobs in this area, given the inventiveness of lawyers and their boilerplates (an older kind of code -- he actually uses the word "codify" a lot).

We lose lots of potentially talented geeks to that world and its often higher pay scales.

Peter H. Salus, an historian, is providing great context, focusing on the last 60 years and the evolution of "solid state". Timesharing got going in 1963. December 6th, 1969: Arpanet switched on. First Unix paper, 1973. Ten years later: GNU. 1991: Linux on FTP. Look for The Daemon, The Gnu and The Penguin next fall.

Looking ahead, the web as a platform is giving rise to a new emphasis on open data, not just open software. OpenID, Oauth, OpenSocial are among those inventions helping with B2B and B2C interoperability. The Open Web Foundation is wading in to this area, of working with open specifications and licensing issues.

Danese Cooper's
talk on "whinging" (win-jing) was interesting, although we say "whining" (wyn-ing) in Portland. Complaining isolates us and makes rain fall on us, wasting energy. She's addressing the gender disparity in geekdom, suggesting a stronger response than just complaining about it.

Ubuntu ad from Danese's slides

Confirmation bias: what you believe reinforces what comes to you. Move out of your biases, even just a little each day (morph) -- a worthy goal in many cases. Recalibration of language (invention in language) is our solution. Acknowledge others, be the world you want to live in.

Nat Torkington is recounting his adventures as a volunteer teacher of future hackers in New Zealand.

Programming is a basic skill, like pumping gas and driving a car, and you'll have a lot more fun in life if you learn some -- pure CP4E talk by the sound of it.

He started with the latest Lego Mindstorms, and discovered that "robots are dorky" -- and Logo blows. scratch.mit.edu is the better way to go with these kids. Show them the ropes and let them invent. Students came up with jokes, stories, books, games using this package.

Moving to processing.org is a next logical step, doing pair programming with his son.

Lessons learned: lectures suck (two minutes max); at 8-11 girls are way smarter and more focused, boys too unrealistically ambitious; keyboards are a challenge; not much in the way of math skills at that age (in NZ anyway); robots = lame; even the teachers need teaching.

Immodest proposal: volunteer in schools; share courseware; don't expect to make a profit. Sounds familiar. He ended with success story involving a Lego robot, for balance.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Geek Anthro

I'm in the vast Expo Hall in the Oregon Convention Center, with coffee, melon, bagel & cream cheese, coffee (other options available). O'Reilly treats us well.

Geeks think nothing of spreading way out among tables, deliberately choosing a very remote one, flipping open a laptop, and getting lost in some world (Uru?). That's me for ya. But other times we glom together for social networking (as some call it) i.e. there's no penalty for flipping between these behaviors.

Some geeks just gaze into space. You don't really need a laptop to get lost in a world.

Once I'm on-line, I have access to friends who might be in this very room. For example I see Robin Dunn of wxPython sitting three table hops away, gazing into his Powerbook.

In theory, I could Twitter about that and, if Robin subscribed to the right feed, he could notice I'm mentioning him in real time, and check the relevant blog link. That'd likely be interruptive of his train of thought though. Mostly we're "asynch" in geek world, more like in Twisted.

Razz turns into a pumpkin at 10 AM (the parking meter expires), plus I have a lot on my plate today. I'm hoping to meet up with DemocracyLab folks in the exhibitors' area at some later time, maybe blog about it some.

OK, so I just walked over to Robin, waving my Ubuntu Dell laptop, babbling about my blog and about needing more coffee, said I'd send him a link. Ah geekdom.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Business Buzz

Mark Shuttleworth is rattling out a high bandwidth talk about "software cadances," the rhythms of development in a permission-free, multiple suppliers environment.

He's passionate about facilitating collaboration across communities and tools within our global free software ecosystem. I'm squeezed between Steve Holden and Duncan in the front row of the Portland Ballroom.

Canonical is interested in the economics of funding this stuff. On the demand side, the advantages are obvious, but how do we innovate on the supply side? He doesn't see how "just advertising" is going to accomplish this, but on-line services just might (I'm thinking "learning a living").

He just got sporadic applause for sharing his vision of raising the Linux desktop to the level of art (beautiful, elegant), blowing right by Apple even. "Software that helps people get laid" as he put it, quoting a favorite philosopher (other bloggers will have the citation).

Prior to Mark's talk, Steve whipped through a State of the Snake report, doing about ten slides in 30 seconds, briefing everyone on where we're going in Python Nation, what with 2.5, 2.6... 3.x.

Jython is going gangbusters these days, with support from Sun Microsystems, with a 2.5 alpha just out recently. He then presented the Frank Willison Award, to Martin von Loewis, a major contributor to Python culture (Steve himself is last year's recipient).

A few Google O'Reilly awards were then granted. Angela Byron was actually present to receive her Best Contributor award, for her work on Drupal. Martin Dougiamas was awarded Best Education Enabler, for Moodle.

R0ml talked next. Then came the White Camel Awards, to Republic of Perl MVPs.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Interest Group

Key: Qs = Quakers, Ws = Wanderers

The children were off enjoying DaVinci Days, a Corvallis tradition, so I heisted their meeting room, given the retractable screen, ethernet... the perfect venue.

I lugged the Saturday Academy pack from Portland: Logitech X-230 speakers; Optoma projector; Ubuntu Dell laptop -- but not so many geometry toyz this time.

I felt privileged to have some very relevant peers present: a sociologist (Jim), a media pro (Steve), a treaty enforcement expert (Jennifer), a company coach (Larry), a health educator (Leslie).

I separated my talk into four Z-layers: personal, metaphysical, situational and historical, with an eye towards interconnecting them.

We mostly went on a tour of my blogs, pausing to watch a few YouTubes along the way. I also projected my Quakers on Youtube, itself not on YouTube (yet).

Q-Meter (oops, spelled hopeful wrong)
The idea of a Q-meter is somewhat tongue in cheek, a play on Scientology's E-meter. With the Q-meter, we ask ourselves where we stand on the utopian to dystopian spectrum, like are we feeling more like Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde today?

A "corporate query" is where we ask about Quakers, not just about ourselves as individuals, although of course it's ultimately as individuals that we freely seek, discover and speak.

Here's a dynamite title for some futuristic interest group: James Nayler: Cold Warrior. Think about it anyway, not saying I have to lead it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Quaker Portal?

Ed Averill led an interest group focusing on the computerized infrastructure Together Friends might develop, with an emphasis on strong security. Not everyone attending Quaker events wants this known to the public, or at least isn't advertising this fact.

The Quaker Portal idea got some heads nodding (nodding off?), perhaps prototyping as a sandbox (a simulation) using only fake data to begin with, giving Friends something to talk about (a conversation piece, a first draft). Lots of randomizing web services provide such infill automatically:
Lorem ipsum in legimus apeirian quo, mea in elitr percipit dissentias. Noster sententiae inciderint mel an, qui quot albucius at. Disputando adversarium cum in. At delicata salutandi efficiendi quo.
The Directory is another perennial challenge. Some just want their email addresses listed, whereas others specifically don't want that shown (because of spammers mostly).

Ed is quite familiar with the issues involved, heads up our IT committee. He's been focusing on the General Secretary position and the need for encryption on laptops, which might be lost or stolen.

Running a secure data center is a separate can of worms in some ways, although not if you're using the laptop as a front end only, saving nothing special on the local drive, keeping anything sensitive at the central office, connecting by VPN or whatever encrypted tunneling system.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


One of my valued sources, a Together Friend, informs me this morning that this "port out, starboard home" etymology is considered an urban legend by sticklers, as the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang decoding well post dates first occurrences of the word.

The colorful and embellished stories of where this word really originates, leave the gatekeepers highly suspicious. Anything "gypsy" is not to be trusted, unless also verified (cross-checked and peer reviewed).

Speaking of posh, I'm ensconced in an Oregon State University dorm room and finding it comfortably spartan. As long as there's ethernet I'm a potentially happy camper. Excerpting from the Wanderers eGroup (me posting yesterday):
One perennial proposal is to bring in a safety net that assumes "the life of the mind" as a desirable component, i.e. "being in college on a scholarship" sets the base line, and includes work amidst study, including sometimes at dirty jobs (as seen on TV -- doesn't mean "unskilled"). You don't get to live in high style necessarily, but you're not in any danger of starving.
Just talking up the Global U again, per my usual rap, an updated version of what came out in Education Automation quite a few orbits ago (about 46).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More Quaker Futurism

Excerpt from Quaker-P (Mon Jul 14 08:02:49 PDT 2008):
Part of the falling home values slash retail housing crisis is Americans are fed up with a stupid, unplanned lifestyle involving urban sprawl and strip malls, exorbitant commutes to work and really shoddy workmanship in the case of a lot of these McHouses (like living inside of fast food). On the horizon: genres of positive realism that promise much better lifestyles, including in places like the Andes, where your Verizon call center might feature a high tech cosmopolitan village, lots of gringos amidst those call center personnel, the better to serve those fussy gringos back home who can't abide "broken English" when calling their bank or whatever, get really nasty about it, tsk.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

WRDL: Grain of Sand

click here to visit applet

Monday, July 14, 2008

Quaker Roots

In doing the research for my upcoming interest group on American Transcendentalists and their influence on Friends, I'm discovering how useful it'd be to not confine my attention to the western hemisphere and the Americas. For example, Emilia Fogelklou of Gothenburg contributes strong writings. Plus Margaret Fuller, friendly to Friends, wrote some of her best stuff as an expat, so once again we're outside of Walt Whitman's favorite stomping grounds (where he sang of himself).

I think I'll start off by looking at barbs and/or spoofs aimed at Quakers, for example this one blog alludes to Quagans, our Quaker-pagan subcultures (not like others haven't played with exotic hybrids), whereas this other contains an hilarious review of a first person "non-shooter". What's especially revealing is the following paragraph:
Multiplayer Discussion
Rainbow Six: Quakers features online multi-player that lets you and the opposing team talk it out in a variety of highly-detailed maps like Village Café, Modern Boardroom and Comfy Mattress.
In other words, the tools of diplomacy have a transcendentalist flare, hearkening back to the "make love not war" aesthetics of the 1970s. One of our best "east meets west" collaborations was Yoko Ono's with John Lennon, a couple who helped us awaken from the Vietnam nightmare. I'm not saying either is Quaker (not my call), but that their personal testimonies well fit with such as we find in Lives That Speak.

Of course in practice I'm rubbing shoulders with only a tiny minority of Friends, a wandering (if not lost) bunch of Beanites and fellow travelers in the Pacific Northwest, circa Seattle.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

IDLE Language Games

:: Python using Akbar font ::
When teaching for Saturday Academy, one of my first moves is to show students how to customize IDLE to better suit their personal needs. This includes choosing a font.

Some students like a more informal look and feel, such as shown above (click for larger view).

IDLE is Python's "batteries included" text editor, making use of the Tkinter module which provides bindings to Tk. John Zelle has contributed graphics.py, a yet simpler API letting Python programmers control Tk widgets, such as window-framed canvases.

IDLE (Interactive DeveLopment Environment) is also a pun on the name Eric Idle, one of the original cast in the Monty Python troupe, for whom Python was appreciatively named.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dog Tubes

dog agility tunnel from canine concepts
Some of our XRLs (remote bases) will be pet friendly, yet designed to contain pets to the designed environment, by keeping the wilds outside relatively free of alien species.

"Leave it as you found it" is the prime directive in many a protected wilderness.

Pet owners have long used plastic tubing to vector hamsters into harmless holding patterns. Dogs may also be coaxed into traversing short distances through tunnels, Dachshunds especially.

In other words, structures needn't directly connect in order to provide safe passage to controlled species, by means of appropriately sized tunnels. Humans needn't be restricted in this way, having trained themselves to obey the appropriate rules even when set at liberty.

Given RFID, some systems will offer fancier control paneling for monitoring pet whereabouts, whereas other communities might consider this overkill, an invasion of privacy, and opt for stronger training instead (like our pets don't "get stuck" thank you very much -- or if they do it's none of your business).


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

An Amnesty Proposal

The Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers) sponsored a letter from many of Canada's faith communities requesting the federal government stop deportations. "Canada has always been a country of citizens who prize peace and peace making. We hope that public policy will reflect those aims," said Jane Orion Smith, spokesperson for the organization. "Corey's case and that of all the soldiers are based on substantive rights of conscience under international law that must be respected."
[ from CNW Group earlier today]
If the Iraqi legislature passes similar legislation for a post pull date amnesty, for USA soldiers left behind past their pull date (timetable talk much in the news again [1]), then soldiers closer to the action will have their own "underground railroad" and won't need to escape to the homeland first, where domestic sentiment is also in their favor (plus family members). [2]

Not saying this'll be for everyone, especially as most soldiers are scheduled to rotate home under ordinary duty, are looking forward to an honorable discharge etc. However, given the usual sense of disarray in fog of war conditions, we might anticipate some units on the ground getting confused, like Japanese in the Philippines post WWII, still trying to hold out for their Emperor, long after the switch to Indochina as the new theater, and start of the cold war. [3]

Iraqi legislators have reasons to want to stay on good terms with their USA counterparts and passing such laws on the model of Canada's would help emphasize the point that friends help each other in times of need. Canada has always been there for us.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Bar Hopping

I'm using the term somewhat tongue in cheek, as these are family friendly and more healthy hippy than those smoke filled taverns in other zip code areas, even if both have pool tables (this one doesn't, Centralia's does).

I'm patched in through the company WiFi, from my Ubuntu Dell, awaiting a Lynchburg Lemonade (just sampling the Jack Daniels, No. 7 -- if anyone ever takes my order, not a given seeing as how I blend in with the decor). Most customers are eating outside, but I'm into darkness and airconditioning, on this beautiful blue day.

On my plate this morning, Darwinism again, and this idea of randomness. What's true about random is it might just be pseudo-random, perhaps even signaling a close encounter of some kind -- but how would we know for sure?

Wolfram's A New Kind of Science studies this question, among other books in the chaos tradition (dynamical systems theory). Eternally incommensurable medio-phase seems optimized for problem solving in some important ways.

As I post in the archives, the idea of "an alien intelligence" becomes oxymoronic at some limit, given ye old "man is the measure of all things" cliche (is all too human in other words). Like, we don't recognize what we don't recognize, if "passing the Turing Test" is not the criterion.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Ned's Excellent Adventures

ned likes twinkies... bigger cake in the wings
My cousin Ned celebrates his birthday at our annual July 4 family picnic, as does my sister Julie.

This year he told us this joke: a man is fishing with a stone for bait, hits an eagle after the same fish, accidentally killing the eagle, a protected species. When the game warden comes by to investigate, our man tells a good story, about not wanting to waste a national treasure (he has cooked and eaten the eagle), which the game warden buys. But upon leaving the warden asks: just curious, what does eagle taste like? Reply: oh, somewhere between a spotted owl and a condor. Oops. Kaboom.

Ned hasn't been shy about traveling the world, including the Amazon Basin, tells many good stories, many of them true.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

More cuRRiculum writing

phi from fibonacci numbers
(click for larger view)
Per Math Forum and other venues, I've been pioneering some Pythonic Math in the context of a free web delivery framework.

Some assume use of "distance education" tools means the teacher isn't on site, or that the students are remote from one another.

This may well be the case.

On the other hand, there's no reason a teacher can't have small, intimate classes, and yet still make use of the very same web frameworks, for in-class use (as when projecting).

If each student has a personal screen, then using a web framework to deliver content, even with students in the same room, may be the teacher-preferred modus operandi (M.O.), i.e. it beats making 'em squint at a chalk board, listen to squeaking.